Like the rest of the multitudes, I enjoyed Inception very much. Not only is it a intricately crafted work of cinema, it also creatively synthesized new findings in neurobiology, several strands of post-post-modern philosophy, and that familiar alien world known to all of us as dreams.
And it was much to my chagrin to see that top spinning at the end of the film. As soon as the credits began to roll, I knew what the conversation would be about on the way out of the theater, and sure enough, it was insipid debate over whether or not "It was all a dream." I don't want to get too bogged down in the foolishness of wondering whether the events depicted in Inception really happened or not, but I do want to use this as a shining example of people getting caught up in the wrong debate. And shame on Christopher Nolan for placating whatever studio boss who suggested that ending.
Getting back on topic, the spinning top here is the depiction of graphic violence in video games. The violence in our most powerful media is currently regulated by two industry-ordained forces: the MPAA and the ESRB. These entities concentrate solely on the amount of explicit violence portrayed in films and video games. They control how violent make-believe characters can be to other make-believe characters, with little regard to the overall violence visited upon the real-life audience.
The concern of the artist and the audience should not be the level of violence inflicted upon characters created for the purpose of being victims. That is absurd. The real concern should not be fictional violence, but actual violence. Art can be violent. It can offend. It can hurt. It can break, it can cultivate, and it can embolden--all the functions of all other expressions of violence.
Art should be inflicting violence upon you that makes you stronger, wiser, and more sympathetic to those around you. If art does not do this, it is bad; whether it's because it is too violent or not violent enough, it doesn't matter.
Meanwhile, artists are unable to control the reactions of others. We know this. Some people need x amount of graphic violence to experience growth, while for others x amount of graphic violence will cause an unhealthy reaction. In my opinion, this means that artists should always be striving to make violence more graphic, more explicit, and more visceral. The boundaries of art is limned by how graphic it can make a given form of violence.
I believe this is a natural process for all artistic media. Slapstick gives way to brilliant political humor, train robberies give way to mind-bending explorations of the human psyche. I don't see any need to be concerned about the bloody state of affairs in games right now--it will pass. The only danger is giving into the critics--to accept that video games must not get any more violent, that violence should be abhorred in all its forms, and that the public should only be exposed to the level of graphic violence their grandparents were exposed to.
We would see nothing without violence, hear nothing, feel nothing. Through the violence in art, we are allowed to experience the violence that allowed others to see things we didn't see, to feel things we never felt. To rob violence from art is to rob art from us. Concerned parents and legislators, please calm down. Game developers and fans, please prove me right.